Get the Best out of your Holiday to Istanbul Tours Day Trips

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There's only one real way round off an Istanbul holiday, and that's to take a Turkish bath. The Turks' pinched their bathing technology from the Romans. On capturing Alexandria in 642 the Arabs were so taken with the idea of hot baths that they kept the baths heated for a six month stretch, fuelled by the combustion of 700,000 papyrus documents from The Great Library. Today Istanbul's great baths see more tourists than locals, a symptom of near prohibitive pricing, and Istanbulites end up in the less ornate, less salubrious hamams. The bath etiquette however remains the same.

After a spot of haggling at the entrance, an assistant or tellak leads you to a wooden cubicle, furnished with a padded leather bench, to get into costume. This consists of a skimpy cotton towel, a pestemal not to be removed by men, (though women's bathing habits are less modest), and a pair of impossibly clunky wooden sandals. Having been walked through a cool chamber, you emerge into a marbled room that is lit by shards of sunlight piercing through the small hexagonal windows set in the domed roof. Two things will then hit you: firstly the fact that it isn't all that hot, and secondly the deafening roar of your tellak as he barks at the Ginn (mischievous spirit) who hide in the steam.

The thinking behind the bath is to warm up your muscles to take the sting out of the pummelling that locals euphemistically refer to as 'a massage'. After half an hour or so of hysterics and pained wailing while laid out on a central plinth (the hamams main heat source) it's time for a wash and a shave. Islam frowns on bodily hair, and while the days of the hamams in house cutthroat barber are over, depilatory creams are all the rage. Your tellak will then don an abrasive camel hair mitten and will set about removing your hard won tan. Next you'll be sluiced clean with heart stoppingly cold water before the whole process is repeated again. By now your skin will feel reborn, your muscles will have turned into Play Doh and all there's left to do is chat. On the way back to your cubicle you'll be swaddled in towels, sat down in front of TV to watch the footy and presented with a glass of sweet chai and a cigarette. All that's left is to return to your cubicle and mete out the baksheesh. Can anyone think of a better way of finishing their holiday in Istanbul?

The pick of Istanbul's hamams:

Cagaloglu Hamami

This bath is a stone's throw from the Aya Sofia on Babiali Caddesi, and is the largest of the city's baths. Celebrity guests have included Kaiser Wilhelm, Franz Liszt, Florence Nightingale and the inimitable Tony Curtis. They've even got a website: www.cagalogluhamami.com.trwww.cagalogluhamami.com.tr.

Cemberlitas Hamami

Designed in 1584 by Istanbul's leading architect Sinan for the wife of Sultan Selim II, Cemberlitas Hamami is located on Vezirhan Caddesi, near the covered market in Sultanahmet.

Tarihi Galatasaray Hamami Although not as grand as the other two above the interior of this bath is beautifully decorated, and for those staying in Taksim it's easier to get to. Located on Turnacibasi Sokak, about half way down Istiklal Caddesi

For the full works expect to spend between £ 10 20.

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